April Fools Day “Bustola, Bill”

April 3, 2006 by · Comments Off on April Fools Day “Bustola, Bill”
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Like many others, we had higher hopes for this day than the answer key which ultimately was provided to us by the atmosphere. Elke and I rode along with Dave Gold and his friend Bob from Orlando, who had flown into OKC just for this event. [Ouch.]

We headed out to Clinton before committing to a NE Panhandle play (along the dryline, hoping for late initiation and moisture return) or SW OK/NW TX (better moisture, more concerns about discrete versus clustered failure modes). We noticed a subtle dryline bulge to the WNW while drivig through the Shattuck area, as well as discrete development NE of Pampa. Things looked promising. Onward we zigzagged into Lipscomb County, targeting either of two discrete storms to our WSW and SW that had showed some effort to become supercellular. But both storms eventually turned out to be high based pieces of junk, devoid of enough structure to be worth shooting photos. Roger H called Dave to let him know the southern storm was nothing special; and when Roger is underwhelmed about the action, you *know* it must suck. 🙂

We ended up at sunset eating sandwiches bought from that funky new grocery store on the S side of Shattuck, while Rich called and told me some baldfaced lie (April Fool’s day, remember) about two tornadoes he saw with the storm near Clinton. We headed back just behind the heaviest precip from the squall line, enjoying a sporadic but beautiful show of CGs and crawlers int he trailing precip region. Some of the crawler eruptions would last 5 seconds or more and cover large areas of the sky. It was too dispersed and intermittent for photography, however, and we were rather fatigued anyway.

On some of the hills S of Darouzett, we encountered Alnado and also met Bill Gargan and his wife. They and a garishly painted TV van from AMA were the only other chasers we saw.

Chasing with Dave again for the first time in 16 years was cool and brought back a lot of old memories from the NSSL IOT&E2 days. [Thanks Dr_DAG for inviting us along!] It was almost worth the time and effort, just for old times’ sake, to hear Dave tell Bill once again: “Bustola Bill, Bustola.” This was Dave’s first chase of the year, so the effort wasn’t totally wasted as we were able to test out various equipment that Dave is planning to use this year for his tour excursions.

Having seen both GR-Level-3 and Baron satellite radar on different chases so far this year, I must say that real time radar *can* be useful, especially at night for avoiding trouble or in very low visibility daytime situations. If one could have the continuous connectivity of Baron with the superior display capabilities of Gibson Ridge, that would be a very popular product.

But it’s far too easy for users to get too engrossed in the laptop screen, at the expense of other very important aspects of situational awareness. I’m no Type A multitasker, and found it difficult to analytically interpret then deduce cogent answers to questions about what was on the radar screen, while still keeping track of navigational software, Internet weather data, stopping and restarting software that was flaking out repeatedly (Baron) and actually watching the sky, in a moving vehicle. Too much going on at once!

Attention gets spread too thin and precludes appropriately deep concentration on any given aspect. Maybe this is why I don’t mind chasing with spazmos like Rich, Ryan, Dave and RJ, who somehow have mastered the ability to walk, talk, chew gum, look two different directions with each eyeball, eat a bag of stale trail mix and scratch their butts all at once. 🙂 Meanwhile I usually just drive, which is something that needs and deserves the type of deep, full, singleminded concentration that my synapses are best hardwired to deliver.

Now it looks like we may be faced with a similar problem for Wednesday (the “Day before the Day”) — somewhat late/mistimed big wave, questions about moisture return, convective mode and orientation of kinematic fields.

Stillwater OK Supercell and Buffalo KS Tornado

March 31, 2006 by · Comments Off on Stillwater OK Supercell and Buffalo KS Tornado
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Once again, this day featured fast moving storms, a lot of hard driving accompanied by good navigation, and zig-zagging the backroads of NE OK and SE KS to stay with the activity. Unlike March 12, the storms were (just barely) moving at hypotenuse speeds for which we could legally pace the other two sides of the triangles, represented by the roads.

Having made our forecast, Rich T and I left Norman targeting relatively discrete development over west-central and NW OK that would move toward the N-central OK area around I-35. The plan was to intercept storms as they became mature and keep up with them for as long as reasonably feasible, before dropping S to the next one(s) in the line.

Ryan was not far behind and met us at the I-35/OK-51 intersection, 3 SE Orlando OK. There we all watched what apparently had been a decent supercell near Kingfisher, which was getting sheared intensely and weaker by the minute as it passed us by to the W and N around 2 p.m. CST..


Soon another cell that had formed to the S of the original — somewhere W of OKC near I-40 — raced NE at 40-45 kt directly toward our location. A rain free base became evident as we experienced liquid precip from the forward-flank core. We moved two miles E to get out of the rain, shot time lapse video and watched as it developed a well defined and photogenic wall cloud with low level rotation to our WSW. Rich was convinced this would soon produce a tornado (super wide angle)…

…but alas, it got shoved E by outflow and choked to death. Here’s a shot as the wall cloud was becoming enfeebled…

A new mesocyclone formed to our right (N) and the race was on. Not only were we dealing with speedy ambient storm motions, but the propagational jumps of a rapidly cycling series of occlusions as well! In the attempt to stay with the storm, we spent the next couple hours zigzagging E then N through places like Pawnee, Ralston and Pawhuska, with several wall clouds in pretty good view the entire time, but nothing tornadic. The storm was cycling rapidly and often, and seemed to be in an environment where the CAPE was a little too weak for the shear. [No photos…too much driving!] At times it looked like crap, and we considered breaking off…but for what? The nearest storms to our S were way down in southern OK, activity that was 2-3 hours away with no guarantee of survival.

The storm got away from us in the road voids of northern Osage County, and as we tangled with Bartlesville and Dewey. We headed N on US-75 to intercept it again between Independence and Elk City KS, but it was just too distant (with contrast too poor) to see what was happening beneath. We finally got a good view of the now weakening storm’s distant base NE of Elk City Lake as it moved away, unaware that we missed an apparent small/weak tornadi by only about 10-15 minutes.

We headed toward Elk City KS to intercept a new storm moving NE from the Arkansas City area. We crossed a narrow path of freshly busted tree branches, split trees and sheet metal in fences (F0) 7 W Independence but didn’t stop to shoot since we were in intercept mode for the new cell. This turns out to be the result of the tornado reported at Elke City Lake — the tornado that the storm waited to produce until it finally was out of our view — over two hours and about 100 miles into its lifespan. As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the only storm to spawn a small tornado as it was about to croak.

The new storm’s peripherals finally came into good view from 7 W Benedict (looking WSW):

We parked 3 SE Coyville to watch it approach, shooting more time lapse video of intermittent wall cloud development and cloud-base cyclonic shear beyond the low ridge to our SW. It never could tighten up a good circulation during this stage, though. Then the main core of the storm shot out a huge, cold pool of outflow that appeared to destroy the low level meso and undercut everything by 5:30 pm:

Doesn’t that storm look like it’s done for? It did to us. Nevertheless, we kept up with it while also heading back toward US-75 for an easy route home. Temperatures in the outflow were in the mid 50s, and had been only about 64-65 F in the inflow thanks to rain-cooled air from earler storms. As we got to US 75, 1 S Buffalo, we looked up the flank of the storm to the NE at a surprisingly well defined (albeit rainy) base…


Note the rainy area beyond the clear slot. Given the cold air in both inflow and outflow, and the pile of outflow the storm vomited merely half an hour earlier, we were somewhat surprised these structures had reappeared. Look in the precip halfway between the tall tree and the road sign in the last shot. This appeared there and was even more surprising…

…a low-contrast, distant, “Hershey’s kiss” shaped funnel that soon narrowed, lowered and tapered to manifest itself as a tornado about 5 ENE Buffalo KS.


Here are a few regular and strongly enhanced/cropped shots sampling the tornado’s evolution as it moved away from us.




Being somewhat rain-wrapped and far away, the tornado was low contrast; but considering how hard we worked to even get there, and how horrid this storm looked only moments before, I cannot complain!

This was Rich’s first March tornado, which came the day before he got the Isaac Cline award news. [I’ll say he’s had a good 2-day stretch!] Huge thanks also goes to Elke for picking up one of Rich’s kids from school while Daphne was still at work, in order that he could chase at all. Unfortunately Ryan’s “dash-cam” missed the event because his windshield fogged over while we were all outside shooting stills! [We shot only stills, no video…too distant to catch good motion anyway.] Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my phone (it had fallen to the floor behind the front seat!) to call in the report in real time. I did locate it a few moments after dissipation to place a belated call to WFO ICT. Tornado time was from 5:57 p.m. CDT to at least 6:03 p.m. CDT, when we lost view of it as it was roping.

Darkness drew nigh, so we broke off the intercept, serendipitously driving through some small hail in a line segment near Caney KS. We consumed a celebratory dinner in BVO before heading home.

Unique, bizarre chase day: 12 Mar 6

March 13, 2006 by · Comments Off on Unique, bizarre chase day: 12 Mar 6
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SHORT: Close, but ultimately futile attempt to intercept Six State Supercell in SE KS and W-Central MO. Observed sunset storms N of Ft. Scott, nothing outstanding. After dark, drove by/near what would become tornadic storms at night. Nice lightning and lighting in NE OK, along with some small hail. Giant smoke pall for final 60 miles.


For 2-3 hours after getting back (around midnight), I was reading news feeds, message boards, chase posts, rechecking the SPC site and various radar/satellite loops, and in general, trying to absorb the magnitude of what happened yesterday.

12 Mar 6 was clearly one of the most bizarre and thoughtfully evocative weather days of recent memory, and I was glad to be a very tiny part of it, despite seeing none of the 99 tornado reports (as of 9Z this morning). Almost all the tornadoes were in unreachable areas (for us), wretched trees/terrain, and/or after dark, so not seeing any of them from the biggest outbreak in years is no pain to me. Instead I’m *glad* to have gone on this trip.

We (Rich Thompson, my son David, and I) could see what would become the Six State Supercell initially when S of BVO, as a young, highly tilted, barely glaciated convective plume crossing from Osage County OK into KS. Rich also was looking at it on-screen. [I don’t yet have live Internet access on the road but Rich does, and he could use his Gibson Ridge + laptop + GPS + Blue-tooth compatible phone setup to download radar images of this cell.] After gassing up in BVO, we took off in hopes of getting even with or ahead of this cell.

By the time we got in KS, we knew the odds were stacked against us, trying to stay abreast or even slightly catch up to any storm on a day with such outrageous mean tropospheric winds. But with no other alternatives apparent, we forged forward, N then E then N then E then N then E across SE KS to Nevada MO, with steely determination. The problem was that it was racing along the hypotenuse while we were zig-zagging along the other two sides of triangle after triangle.

Out closest approach was near Ft. Scott where we actually had almost attained a good view under the base of this screaming ballistic missile of a storm. Then it finally got away from us between Nevada and Rich Hill MO. Coming from Norman, it was just too far, too fast, too diagonal with respect to the roads. I didn’t feel bad at all for missing the tornadoes, then, because we truly gave it our all. It was one of my most challenging strategic-driving experiences in 20+ years of storm observing, but better to try and fail than not try at all…as long as it is done safely.

The storm of interest fired in the area we expected (NE OK), and basically bisected our forecast target area from SW-NE — but waited until after it had gotten into the hills and trees of MO to start producing tornadoes of any substance. And it fired early — an hour or more before we expected! This is what put us behind from the start. Our spatial forecast, navigation, maneuvering, and avoidance of big towns were almost flawlessly executed — but simply too late in a temporal sense. Even then, I’ve got doubts we would go E of US 71 and follow the storm all the way past Clinton Lake. These things happen! It’s part of the swing of fortunes that characterize chasing.

We broke off. No new development was evident. [Rich’s data connection crapped out in SE KS and he never could restart it the rest of the trip.] We decided to head S toward I-44 after a food break, and hope something would go up along the dryline that we could see on the way home.

While eating in Nevada, I got simultaneous calls from Elke and Bobby Prentice, each informing me of development N of BVO, on nearly the same potential path as the earlier storm. But this time, we could and did park NE of it to let it approach.

By the time the storm arrived near our vantages at Prescott and Pleasanton KS, it was sunset, hazy, dimly lit, and some cirrus was lowering contrast even further. We watched the highly tilted/sheared storm (albeit with a base that was surprisingly wide to me), move from SW-W-N before it got too dark to see much. Lightning activity was on the rise, and I was somewhat concerned that either this storm or other stuff coming up to its S could get into the better kinematic environment farther E and crank up.

Alas, the concern wasn’t enough to act upon. Nightfall was nigh, we were getting bleary-eyed, and we deemed it best to head home. We might have been able to drop back E into MO and try a nocturnal bullfight approach such as what apparently worked well for Rocky Rascovich and Vince Miller, but simply chose otherwise. Not wanting to night chase in the horrendous hills and forests of MO, and get back home even later on top of our fatigue from the strenuous intercept attempt at the early stages of the Six State Supercell, we wandered S down US 69 toward I-44 to head for home. Somehow we managed to dodge several supercells along the way, which probably was a good thing.

A spectacular CG display over Ottawa County and NE of TUL ensued, and we went through a skinny linear segment on I-44 containing a lot of small (1/2 inch type) hail and CGs. Breaking out of the segment’s W side, a tail-end storm (which turned out to be a tornadic supercell) was seen perhaps 25 miles SSW with it innards strobing, anvil edges glowing ghostly silver beneath the moonlight…just beautiful. Within minutes, given differential motion of storm and chase crew, that storm was SE of us and we were on our way home.

How bizarre and unique it was to leave the hail, then within an hour, enter 60 miles of smoke! I never have penetrated so much smoke for so long anytime, much less returning from a chase. Turns out this smoke, which still hangs thick in Norman as I write, emanates from absolutely immense fires in the Panhandle that have covered several *hundred thousand* acres yesterday and this morning alone (update: more than 660,000 acres/1000 sq miles). Our severe weather and tornado outbreak, while epic, may not have been the most disastrous weather event of the day associated with this system.

To put this in perspective,
1. The Panhandle fires, so far, have killed more folks than the tornadoes yesterday (pending final Storm Data), and
2. The legendary 2002 Chediski-Rodeo fire in AZ took ***three weeks*** (from ignition to containment) to scorch less acreage! [Chediski-Rodeo was a little under 500,000…as of now, 660,000 acres have cooked in 24 hours in the Panhandle).

Of course the fuels and wind conditions were much different. But huge swaths of the Panhandle have been reduced to ash, leading Rich and I to speculate about the possibility that a big tornado out there anytime before full green-up may lead to soot-rain on KC (the analog to the red rain downstream after the 3 May 99 hoses).

And yes, folks, the smoke from these fires roughly 200 miles away reduced visibility to 1-1.5 miles in OKC as we passed through (barely could see downtown buildings from the I35-I40 “Ft. Smith Junction” just E of downtown!).

Back to the Six State Supercell. After my initial report, Bobby Prentice examined radar data determined that the first echo popped up over Noble County OK, at 1726z (1126 a.m.) on the 12th. The final echo disappearance was over Jackson County MI, at 904z (304 a.m.) on the 13th. Supercell path length was 690 nautical miles over 17-1/2 hours, with a mean bearing from 245 degrees at 39 kt! [Thanks Bobby for providing that info.]

I reckon it has happened before, but I know of no supercell that has traveled so far, and perhaps, lasted so long. The only others that might come close temporally, in my memory, are the Beloit KS monster (15 Jun 92), at about 12 h, and the Kress-Turkey (29 May 1) at 10-11 hours. Neither traveled so far.

The parent supercell for “Tri-State” (18 Mar 1925) ***may*** have approached the distance covered, if giving it the same pretornadic existence as a convective plume before producing its memorable tornadic event(s). That’s a heavy assumption.

Meteorologically speaking, some prime suspects in these storms’ failure to produce daytime hoses in KS appeared to be slightly over-mixed moisture (Td less than 60 F by late afternoon), weak dryline convergence for many hours after the Six State Supercell peeled off it, and the extreme shear that seemed too strong for the CAPE for a long time.

Storms that hit the warm frontal zone (or in the case of the Six State storm, stayed in it a long time) went berserk. Likewise with storms that went into slightly lower dew point depressions, somewhat more backed flow, higher 0-1 km SRH, and LLJ-enhanced storm-relative inflow after dark (MO, NE OK) — but still with some SBCAPE. But our preferred time/space window — daylight hours W of the MO jungles — simply didn’t work out.

In any event, I feel privileged to have witnessed (from varying distances) the start and first couple hours of what may be the longest lasting, longest track supercell ever known. Then, to drive back in hail, followed by transecting 60 miles of the largest smoke plume I have ever witnessed…I can’t imagine this sequence of events unfolding again.

It’s yet another in the ever growing list of uniquenesses and adventures that make chasing not only something that I love to do and want to do, but that I *must* do. [Yes, the last two words were borrowed from the talk of the ever eloquent Dave Hoadley’s, the day before yesterday in the Metroplex.]


[Edited 3-13 for added info from Bobby.]

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